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Durga Puja 2022

How a former flight attendant from Kolkata held Durga puja in Beijing in turbulent times

Covid restrictions, party plenary, vacation, shortage of hands — nothing could stop the fifth edition of the puja in the Chinese capital

Suvam Pal | Published 06.10.22, 06:01 PM
The fifth edition of the Durgotsav was held at the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre Auditorium inside the Embassy of India in Beijing, under the umbrella of their socio-cultural community organisation called The Beijing Bongs

The fifth edition of the Durgotsav was held at the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre Auditorium inside the Embassy of India in Beijing, under the umbrella of their socio-cultural community organisation called The Beijing Bongs

All images courtesy The Beijing Bongs

The Chinese capital of Beijing is set for the era-defining plenary of the Chinese Communist Party amid swirling rumours and speculations. Party chief Xi Jinping is leaving no stone unturned to stage the once-in-five-years leadership-deciding event in a seemingly impregnable fortress as China continues to power on with its Zero-Covid policy. And all this while the entire country and its population of over a billion, including businesses, markets and logistics suppliers in the capital, have gone on a weeklong vacation from October 1, China’s National Day. 

But the Herculean odds stacked against their much-awaited Durga Puja could not dampen the spirit of a motley group of Bengalis in Beijing. They managed to hold Durgotsav for a full day on Vijaya Dashami at the Swami Vivekananda Cultural Centre Auditorium inside the Embassy of India in Beijing, under the umbrella of their socio-cultural community organisation called The Beijing Bongs (TBB). At the helm was a former flight attendant from Kolkata. 

Anindita Das with her husband Erwin Broekman and children Neil (left) and Constantine

Anindita Das with her husband Erwin Broekman and children Neil (left) and Constantine

Fifth year of the puja

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“The first Durga puja in Beijing was held in 2018 by our organisation and we have continued the puja for the past four years. We managed to organise the puja even during the Covid-hit years of 2020 and 2021. But this was another exceptional year because many of our founding and active members are either stuck outside China because of pandemic restrictions or have left China,” said Anindita Das, who was born and educated in Kolkata before relocating to Delhi and, subsequently, London, with her parents. 

The former flight attendant of the German airlines, Lufthansa, shifted to Beijing a few years ago with her civil aviation pilot husband, Erwin Broekman, who is originally from the Netherlands, and two school-going kids, Neil and Constantine. 

“We have been enthusiastic members of the TBB since its inception and have attended all its events, including the puja, over the past four years. But this time, the diminishing number of TBB members and the lack of people in leadership roles on the ground almost compelled a handful of like-minded people, including me, to come together and host the puja in its landmark fifth year. I don’t call myself a leader. I have only facilitated communications and coordination among our spirited members to ensure the TBB Durgotsav is celebrated with pomp and grandeur in the year that Durga Puja was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO,” said Das, who is also a professionally certified coach.

India’s ambassador to China, Pradeep Kumar Rawat, at the puja

India’s ambassador to China, Pradeep Kumar Rawat, at the puja

Fighting odds and boosting spirits

“The first Durga puja in Beijing was held in 2018 by our organisation and we have continued the puja for the past four years. We managed to organise the puja even during the Covid-hit years of 2020 and 2021. But this was another exceptional year because many of our founding and active members are either stuck outside China because of pandemic restrictions or have left China,” said Anindita Das, who was born and educated in Kolkata before relocating to Delhi and, subsequently, London, with her parents. 

The former flight attendant of the German airlines, Lufthansa, shifted to Beijing a few years ago with her civil aviation pilot husband, Erwin Broekman, who is originally from the Netherlands, and two school-going kids, Neil and Constantine. 

“We have been enthusiastic members of the TBB since its inception and have attended all its events, including the puja, over the past four years. But this time, the diminishing number of TBB members and the lack of people in leadership roles on the ground almost compelled a handful of like-minded people, including me, to come together and host the puja in its landmark fifth year. I don’t call myself a leader. I have only facilitated communications and coordination among our spirited members to ensure the TBB Durgotsav is celebrated with pomp and grandeur in the year that Durga Puja was listed as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO,” said Das, who is also a professionally certified coach.

Rituals being conducted virtually for the Durgotsav

Rituals being conducted virtually for the Durgotsav

Finding a priest

Even finding a priest to perform the rituals proved to be a tough task. 

“For the first two years, we flew in priests from India. For the past two years, because of visa restrictions following the Covid outbreak, a member doubled as a priest. But unfortunately, he left for India a couple of months back. The member who volunteered to take over the mantle couldn’t make it to Beijing at the last moment as China’s latest travel restrictions did not allow him to travel from his current residence in Tianjin,” said Anagha Thakur Nandi, a Maharashtrian from Nasik married to Beijing-based Bengali software entrepreneur Jayanta Nandi and one of the key organisers of the puja. 

Binay Bhushan Jha conducting the puja rituals from Rajganj

Binay Bhushan Jha conducting the puja rituals from Rajganj

Unfazed, Das reached out to social entrepreneur and author, Biswajit Jha, who went all the way from his hometown of Rajganj, in Jalpaiguri, to Beijing in 2019 to perform Durga puja. But the busy professional, too, couldn’t make it this time. He, instead, requested his father and teacher-turned-trained priest, Binay Bhushan Jha, to step in. “Biswajit’s father performed the rites and rituals meticulously for the one-day abridged affair, proficiently using a business communication platform to remotely conduct the puja from the temple inside his Rajganj home,” recounted Das, happy to have completed her assignment with flying colours against all odds. 

(The author is an independent journalist and previously worked in Beijing)

Last updated on 06.10.22, 10:21 PM
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